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A Stormy front is coming: Trump might try to silence Daniels, but she’s baring all on tour

By Jean Marbella • Apr 19, 2018 at 1:02 PM

BALTIMORE — That the endless, what-next drama of the Trump presidency would take a side trip down a bumpy road to a nudie bar in industrial Baltimore may at this point be unsurprising.

Nonetheless, hundreds of gawkers are expected to flock to Fantasies strip club Thursday night, and again on Friday and Saturday, to see Stormy Daniels bare all — part of a multi-city tour capitalizing on her recent notoriety not so much as an adult film actress and director but as the plaintiff in a lawsuit against her alleged one-time paramour, President Donald J. Trump.

“She’s a person of interest,” Fantasies bartender and manager Renata Welsh said, with some understatement. “She’s all over the news. Everyone wants to see her. A guy asked me the other day, ‘Who do you think is lying, him or her?’ “

That is the question, indeed. More people than can fit into Fantasies (capacity: 265), and who might have no interest in seeing her there in the flesh, are curious about what Daniels will reveal — about Trump.

Federal investigators have raided the home and office of Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. Cohen has said he paid Daniels $130,000 out of his own pocket shortly before the 2016 election as part of a nondisclosure agreement to keep her silent about an alleged 2006 sexual encounter with Trump that she says led to an affair — even as Cohen added that the president “vehemently denies” it happened. Trump himself has said he did not know about the payment to Daniels. The 39-year-old performer, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, is cooperating with the investigators.

She has also kept up a steady stream of appearances, clad and otherwise. On Monday, she attended a federal court hearing in New York for Cohen, who was trying to protect files seized in the raid, which include some related to the nondisclosure agreement Daniels signed. Daniels has sued Trump to void the agreement, and Cohen for defamation for insinuating that she lied about the affair.

Daniels’ attorney said she was not be available to speak for this article. She was a guest on “The View” on Tuesday, and released a sketch of the man she says threatened her to keep her quiet about Trump. Her appearance last month on “60 Minutes” was the 50-year-old show’s highest-rated ever.

In such appearances, she comes off as poised, straightforward and, polling shows, believable: A POLITICO/Morning Consult poll conducted after the “60 Minutes” broadcast found that 56 percent believe Daniels and Trump had an affair. By contrast, just 36 percent said they believe Trump is honest.

And in a now familiar pattern, the whole shebang doesn’t seem to have changed anything very much, at least at the time of the poll: It found Trump’s approval rating had dropped just two points, to 42 percent, and 46 percent said the Daniels allegations didn’t change their view of him.

Those who knew Daniels before Trump say they are not surprised by how deftly she has handled the overwhelming attention — some of it highly negative, especially online — and continued to take care of business. Rather than shrink from the often harsh spotlight, she has used it to book multiple appearances, and to get paid, strip club representatives said, much more than in the past.

As “she should be,” said Stacy Saccal, general manager of Ultra Gentlemen’s Club in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Saccal declined to say how much Daniels was paid to perform on April 13 and 14 at the club, adjacent to Trump’s own International Golf Club and a short drive to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, where he spends much of his time.

Patrons packed the club, paying $25 or $35 in cover charges, $50 for seats around the stage, $40 for an autograph and $600 to $1,000 for VIP rooms. Ultra printed some T-shirts to sell for $25 as well, bearing such slogans as “hanky spanky,” a reference to Daniels’ saying on “60 Minutes” that she playfully swatted Trump with a rolled-up magazine he was showing her that had his face on the cover.

A handful of Trump supporters protested outside, Saccal said, but inside it was all good.

“She’s a great performer,” Saccal said. “She was fun and engaged the crowd. She makes a good entrance and is amazing on stage.”

Daniels had appeared at the club in the past, and Saccal wondered if the recent fame might have changed her — if a prima donna would show up with demands and attitude. But no worries, she said.

“I was actually surprised. She was down-to-earth and cool,” she said. “She was very nice, asking us what we needed.”

University of Maryland anthropologist Judith Hanna has written extensively about exotic dancers. She said that in some ways, Daniels is much like others in the industry: businesswomen who are empowered rather than exploited by the fact that they perform nude.

“Men have to pay them,” Hanna said. “There’s a range, like in any business, and she’s at the top of the continuum.”

Hanna, who has helped judge an exotic dance contest at Fantasies, said she sees Daniels’ public statements as an effective part of the movement of women speaking out against workplace harassment and sexual violence.

“She has the confidence, and I think the ‘Me Too’ movement creates a climate for her presentation.”

Daniels has said her relationship with Trump was consensual — although he dangled the possibility of getting her onto his TV show, “The Apprentice” — but she is fighting something those in the Me Too effort have also criticized: nondisclosure agreements that sometimes serve to keep bad behavior secret.

She and her attorney argue that her nondisclosure agreement — in which for extra secrecy Daniels was called “Peggy Peterson” and Trump “David Dennison” — was invalid because Trump didn’t sign it. After attending the federal court hearing on Monday in New York, Daniels made a brief but pointed statement declaring that Cohen “has acted like he is above the law.”

“He has played by a different set of rules — or, should we say, no rules at all,” she said. “He has never thought that the little man, or especially women, or even more women like me, matter.

“That ends now.”

As her legal battles continue, Daniels will spend the next several nights working the pole-equipped dance floor at Fantasies, the kind of club she often has played as a featured performer. Fantasies bills itself equally as a nightclub and sports bar, and has lots of big-screen TVs — albeit ones that compete with nearly naked women in stilettos dancing on stage and strutting or crawling across the bar. As noted in a Sun comparison of strip club food offerings several years back, it has a lower-key atmosphere than others of its ilk — it was where the reviewer said he enjoyed his meal “most comfortably.”

There will be extra bartenders and security on hand for Daniels’ show, Welsh said, and she is hoping to double the $400 to $500 she can make on a weekend night. She counts herself among those excited by the prospect of seeing the woman of the moment in person, and has a whole list of requests from family members for pictures and autographs.

Daniels has strip club appearances running through November, taking her to Oregon, Colorado, Texas, Ohio, Wisconsin, New York, California and other points in between, she says on her Instagram account. An entertaining Twitter account, in which Daniels often and humorously sassed back at the name callers, recently went private.

She had seemed to have silenced Tweeter-in-Chief Trump. The president often uses the social media site to attack his adversaries, but long laid off Daniels.

Trump broke that silence on Wednesday, essentially sub-tweeting her. He mocked the sketch Daniels revealed on “The View” of the man she says accosted her in 2011 and urged her not to talk about Trump.

But tellingly, Trump didn’t name Daniels, or give her one of his trademark nicknames, like “Crooked Hillary” for Clinton or “Slippery Jim Comey” for the FBI director he fired, but turned the tweet into an attack instead on another favorite target.

“A sketch years later about a nonexistent man,” Trump tweeted shortly after 6 a.m. Wednesday. “A total con job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools (but they know it)!”

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©2018 The Baltimore Sun

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